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Betting 101

Sports betting is a discipline that appears simple on the surface but in reality is extremely nuanced and complex. To borrow a line from Texas Holdem Poker, it ‘takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master’. That’s only partially accurate since sports betting is never really mastered—it continues to change and evolve due to new innovations in betting and technology as well as within the sports themselves. Sports Insider is dedicated to sharing the best sports betting theory and practice available anywhere. Below are some of the basics and make sure to visit the site daily for ‘more advanced study’.

Sports Betting Odds Lingo—talk The Talk

There are numerous ways to bet on sports but most every bet is derived from the two basic wagers—the point spread and the money line. Here’s how to read the information you see at the sports book. Once you understand this we’ll move on to explaining what these bets represent.

Reading Point Spread Bets

Let’s start with a hypothetical game matchup:

TEAM 1: -3

TEAM 2: +3

In the example above the pointspread is 3. The minus sign (-) indicates the favorite while the plus sign (+) signifies the underdog. The correct way to express this:

“Team 1 is a three point favorite over Team 2”

or

“Team 1 is -3 over Team 2”

or

“Team 1 is laying three points to Team 2”

Each of the above phrases are just different ways of saying the same thing. Any bettor or bookmaker anywhere in the world will know exactly what you’re talking about. Now let’s reverse the terminology:

“Team 2 is a three point underdog to Team 1”

or

“Team 2 is +3 against Team 1”

or

“Team 2 is getting three points against Team 1”

Sports Betting Odds Lingo—talk The Talk

For now, we’ll talk about odds expressed in moneyline format. Moneylines are predominately used in North America but much like the metric system the rest of the world does it a different way. Outside of the US and Canada you’re more likely to find odds expressed in fractions or decimals. We’ll discuss these in detail below.

Let’s return to the compelling matchup we used as an example above:

TEAM 1: -180

TEAM 2: +150

Once again, this will make more sense as you keep reading. As was the case above, Team 1 is favored over Team 2 though the qualitative disparity is expressed as odds rather than a pointspread. And since we’re talking the US moneyline format here’s how you’d say it:

“Team 1 is a -180 favorite over Team 2”

or

“Team 1 is -180 over Team 2”

or

“Team 1 is laying a buck eighty against Team 2”

Like before, these all mean the same thing. Now let’s flip the script:

“Team 2 is a +150 underdog against Team 1”

or

“Team 2 is +150 against Team 1”

or

“Team 2 is a buck fifty underdog against Team 1”

Notice that the designation of the ‘favorite’ and ‘underdog’ is the same whether its a pointspread or moneyline.  The minus sign (-) indicates the favorite while the plus sign (+) signifies the underdog.

Understanding Moneyline Odds

Remember what we said above about moneylines being somewhat unique to North America? If you ask a European sports bettor his opinion on them he’ll react as if they’re some completely inscrutable hieroglyphics. That’s not really the case—it’s just what you’re most familiar with. US sports gamblers that grew up with moneylines often ‘think’ in that format no matter where they go in the world to bet.

To explain moneylines let’s return to the Team 1 v. Team 2 matchup:

TEAM 1: -180

TEAM 2: +150

To bet Team 1 a player must lay -180 to win 100. We can express this in dollars by saying that he must lay $180 to win $100. If Team 1 wins, he’ll receive his original $180 stake back along with his $100 profit for a total of $280. If he’d rather beat Team 2 the bettor will lay 100 to win 150, or $100 to win $150. If Team 2 wins the bettor receives his $100 stake back plus $150 in profit for a total of $250. Once again, if you see the ‘plus’ it designates the underdog. If you see the ‘minus’ it refers to the favorite.

You might be more familiar with odds expressed like ‘Team 1 is a 3 to 1 favorite’ but it all means the same thing. In the rest of the world, betting odds are more commonly expressed as fractions or decimals but it’s all just a different way of expressing the same price. For example:

TEAM 1: -180 (moneyline) = 1.5556 (decimal) = 5/9 (fractional)

TEAM 2: +150 (moneyline) = 2.500 (decimal) = 3/2 (fractional)

It’s also worth mentioning that parts of Asia also have their own odds formats.

Understanding The Pointspread

Now that we’ve explained how to read a pointspread let’s go into a bit more detail about what it represents. You’ll recall that the pointspread is used to give the better team (the favorite) in a matchup a ‘handicap’ in the form of a specific number of points. Likewise, the inferior team (the underdog) in the matchup is given the advantage of the same number of points. The favorite must win the game by a margin greater than the pointspread. The underdog must win the game outright or lose the game by a margin that is less than the pointspread.

Example:

TENNESSEE TITANS: +7

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: -7

In this example, the New Orleans Saints must win the game by 8 or more points for a bet on them to be considered a winner. The Titans must either win the game outright or lose by 6 points or fewer for bettors to cash wagers. If the game lands exactly on 7 it’s a ‘push’ or a tie and all bets are refunded. You’ll see many pointspreads with a half point which eliminates the possibility of a tie. For example:

ENNESSEE TITANS: +6.5

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: -6.5

Even with the pointspread bet there’s a moneyline involved. In most cases, a bettor must lay 11 to 10 on a pointspread bet. This means that he’ll bet $110 to win $100. If his team is victorious, he receives his original $110 stake back plus $100 profit for a total of $210. If his team loses, he’s out $110. You’ll also hear pointspread bets referred to as ‘side plays’ (even though you can also make a side play on a moneyline) or ‘straight bets’.

The Basics Of Over/under Betting

Most people are familiar with the concept of the ‘over’ and ‘under’ but here’s some more detail. First of all, you can spend years in a Las Vegas sportsbook and never once hear anyone mention the term ‘Over/Under bet’ or ‘Over/Under betting’. It’s kind of the same way that the popular card game is known as ‘Blackjack’ everywhere except the casinos of Nevada where it’s ‘21’. It’s a good idea to get in the practice of calling ‘Over/Under’ bets ‘Totals’ or ‘Totals Bets’.

Sometimes called ‘Over/Under’ bets but get in the practice of referring to them as ‘totals’. A totals bet involves the decision of whether some in-game statistical measure (usually the combined final score) will go ‘Over’ or ‘Under’ a total set by the bookmaker. As was the case with the pointspread, there will usually be a moneyline attached to a total to provide an additional component to be mindful of as you handicap.

Let’s use an example right off of the NBA betting board:

PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS AT OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

OVER 225  -110

UNDER 225 -110

Here you’re laying 11/10 or $110 to win $100 and selecting the game to exceed a combined final score of 225 points (‘the Over’) or to stay under 225 points (‘the Under’).   Sometimes you’ll see different moneylines on both sides of the proposition:

OVER 225  +110

UNDER 225 -130

When you see moneylines like this it means that one outcome is ‘favored’, in this case the ‘Under’. A sportsbook has a couple of options if they take an unbalanced amount of action. They can keep the total where it is and change the moneyline. Alternately, they might move the total and keeping the moneyline even. Let’s take the same game and assume that the book has taken more action on the ‘Under’ than the ‘Over’:

OVER 224.5  -110

UNDER 224.5 -110

Understanding Parlays And Teasers

Parlays

Here’s another bet that is called one thing in North America and something completely different in the rest of the world. If you go into a Nevada sportsbook, it’ll be called a ‘parlay’. In the rest of the world the same bet is called an ‘Accumulator’ or a ‘Multiple’ outside of the United States. Parlays look daunting but are really simple. In the bet examples above, we’re dealing with one component of the game. In a pointspread bet, if your team covers you cash your ticket. In a totals bet, if you correctly pick the ‘Over’ or ‘Under’ you get paid. In a parlay, however, you’re trying to pick a number of betting interests. For example, you might do a three team parlay on the winner of three different football games.

The more correct decisions you make in the parlay (called ‘legs’ in sports betting slang), the higher the payout. Here’s the bad news—if just one of your parlay selections lose the entire bet loses. That’s why the payout on winning parlays is so attractive. This is an average odds table for parlays:

# OF TEAMS PAYOUT ODDS

  • 2 -> 13 to 5
  • 3 -> 6 to 1
  • 4 -> 10 to 1
  • 5 -> 20 to 1
  • 6 -> 40 to 1
  • 7 -> 75 to 1
  • 8 -> 100 to 1
  • 9 -> 150 to 1
  • 10 -> 300 to 1
  • 11 -> 450 to 1
  • 12 -> 600 to 1
  • 13 -> 750 to 1
  • 14 -> 900 to 1
  • 15 -> 1500 to 1

Players can play parlays in one sport, multiple sports or in some cases the same game. Here’s an example of a three team NBA parlay using actual lines from the 2018-2019 season:

TORONTO RAPTORS -11 OVER SACRAMENTO KINGS

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER -4 OVER PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

DALLAS MAVERICKS -3 OVER LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

$100 TO WIN $600

In this example, all three favorites won and covered making this ticket a winner. The player will now receive $700–his original $100 stake plus a $600 profit. In the event of a ‘push’ most sportsbooks will revert the parlay to the next lowest level. This means that if Oklahoma City had won by exactly four points the game would have been a ‘push’ against the spread. Since the other two ‘legs’ of the parlay won the bet would be paid at the same odds as a two team parlay (13 to 5). A two team parlay with a ‘push’ is usually considered a ‘straight bet’ for payment purposes. There are exceptions–you’ll find ‘Ties Lose’ parlay cards where a ‘push’ = a loss at higher odds.

There’s also moneyline parlays which require a bit more math but are essentially the same thing. We’ll go to the National Hockey League for this bet:

SAN JOSE SHARKS +125 OVER WASHINGTON CAPITALS

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS +130 OVER NEW YORK ISLANDERS

CALGARY FLAMES -180 OVER CAROLINA HURRICANES

$100 TO WIN $705

Here’s how the payout is calculated. You’ll never need to do this on your own but just in case you were wondering:

$125 * (1+(100/130)) * (1+(180/100)) = $705

Make sure to check the parlay rules at your sportsbooks since they can vary from one location to another. Some places prohibit certain sports to be parlayed or won’t allow side and total parlays on the same game (‘correlated parlays’).

Teasers

Teasers are a bet that are wildly popular in the United States but not in the rest of the world. This is because they’re a perfect fit for ‘American football’ and not very applicable to the other form of ‘football’ that is called ‘soccer’ in America. If you want to start a bunch of sharp sports bettors bickering bring up the topic of teasers. Some think they’re great bets with positive profit upside. Others think they’re for suckers. There must be some truth to them being good bets since many sportsbooks limit teasers in one way or another.

A teaser is essentially a parlay with a twist. Like a basic parlay, you need to win multiple betting interests to cash your wager. With a teaser, however, is that the player is allowed to ‘adjust’ (or ‘tease’) the pointspread in his favor by a predetermined number of points on each game in exchange for a reduced payout. In football, the most common point totals are 6, 6.5 and 7. In basketball, it’s 4, 4.5 and 5 points. Some books have limits on the number of teams you can use in a teaser while others with more favorable teaser rules will let you ‘mix and match’ basketball and football plays. Here’s some sample payout charts for football teasers:

6 POINT FOOTBALL TEASERS:

SELECTIONS MADE PAYOUT ODDS

  • 2 -> 10 to 11
  • 3 -> 8 to 5
  • 4 -> 13 to 5
  • 5 -> 9 to 2
  • 6 -> 7 to 1
  • 7 -> 10 to 1
  • 8 -> 15 to 1
  • 9 -> 20 to 1
  • 10 -> 25 to 1
  • 11 -> 35 to 1
  • 12 -> 50 to 1
  • 13 -> 75 to 1
  • 14 -> 100 to 1
  • 15 -> 150 to 1

6.5 POINT FOOTBALL TEASERS:

SELECTIONS MADEPAYOUT ODDS

  • 2 -> 10 to 12
  • 3 -> 7 to 5
  • 4 -> 12 to 5
  • 5 -> 4 to 1
  • 6 -> 6 to 1
  • 7 -> 9 to 1
  • 8 -> 12 to 1
  • 9 -> 15 to 1
  • 10 -> 20 to 1
  • 11 -> 25 to 1
  • 12 -> 35 to 1
  • 13 -> 50 to 1
  • 14 -> 75 to 1
  • 15 -> 100 to 1

7 POINT FOOTBALL TEASERS:

SELECTIONS MADE PAYOUT ODDS

  • 2 -> 10 to 13
  • 3 -> 6 to 5
  • 4 -> 2 to 1
  • 5 -> 7 to 2
  • 6 -> 5 to 1
  • 7 -> 8 to 1
  • 8 -> 10 to 1
  • 9 -> 12 to 1
  • 10 -> 15 to 1
  • 11 -> 20 to 1
  • 12 -> 25 to 1
  • 13 -> 35 to 1
  • 14 -> 50 to 1
  • 15 -> 75 to 1

Here’s an example of what we’re talking about using three games from Week 16 of the 2018 NFL football season:

The original pointspread:

BUFFALO BILLS +13.5 OVER NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

ATLANTA FALCONS -2.5 OVER CAROLINA PANTHERS

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS +3.5 OVER MIAMI DOLPHINS

Would look like this in a 7 point teaser:

BUFFALO BILLS +20.5 OVER NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

ATLANTA FALCONS +4.5 OVER CAROLINA PANTHERS

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS +10.5 OVER MIAMI DOLPHINS

If all three propositions win the bettor would be paid 6/5 or $120 for a $100 bet.

Understanding Prop Bets

Prop bets is a shortened term for ‘proposition bets’ and is a catch all term for anything that doesn’t fall into another betting category.  In North America you’ll hear any bet that isn’t on a sporting event (eg: a bet on a reality TV show or a political election) referred to as a ‘prop bet’. As was the case with many of the terms we’ll talk about the rest of the world calls this something else. In Europe and internationally, this type of bet is called a ‘novelty’ or a ‘special’ bet.

A secondary usage of the term ‘proposition bet’ is for ancillary outcomes in a sporting event. Typically, these are outcomes that don’t directly impact the result of the game. A great example of this bet is the many Super Bowl prop bets offered by bookmakers such as ‘Will there be a fourth down conversion?’ or ‘Will the Los Angeles Rams score in both halves’. Prop bets have become exceptionally common in the Super Bowl to the point that they constitute the majority of betting. Props are offered in most sports with some sportsbooks offering a greater variety than others.

Here’s some prop bet examples:

SUPER BOWL LIII—FIRST PLAY OF THE GAME ON OFFENSE BY EITHER TEAM

PASS ATTEMPT: -120

RUSH OR SACK: +100

SUPER BOWL LIII—WILL EITHER TEAM MISS A PAT (EXTRA POINT)?

YES: +360

NO: +450

WILL JASON DAY MAKE THE CUT AT THE FARMERS INSURANCE OPEN GOLF EVENT?

YES: -600

NO: +400

Understanding Futures Betting

Guess what? What we know as ‘futures betting’ here in North America is called something else in the rest of the world. Internationally, this type of bet is called an ‘Ante Post’ or ‘Outright’ wager. No matter what you call it, this type of wager is placed on the winner of a championship, a league or a competition. There are a number of different betting interests available at different prices to reflect their likelihood of winning. Usually ‘futures bets’ are offered well before the outcome is determined (eg: 2020 Super Bowl champion) but not always. The ‘To Win’ betting on weekly NASCAR and Formula 1 races or tennis and golf tournament bets are technically ‘futures bets.’ There are also futures bets that are interrelated with the aforementioned ‘prop bet’ or ‘novelty bet’ such as picking the winner of a reality show competition like ‘Dancing With The Stars’ or ‘American Idol’.

Here’s a few examples:

91ST ACADEMY AWARDS—TO WIN BEST ACTOR

CHRISTIAN BALE -110
RAMI MALEK +135
BRADLEY COOPER +500
VIGGO MORTENSEN +1600
WILLEM DAFOE +3300

CFL FOOTBALL FUTURES—ODDS TO WIN 2019 GREY CUP

CALGARY STAMPEDERS +250
OTTAWA REDBLACKS +550
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS +650
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS +700
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS +700
EDMONTON ESKIMOS +750
BC LIONS +800
TORONTO ARGONAUTS +900
MONTREAL ALOUETTES +1500

SOCCER FUTURES—ODDS TO WIN 2018-2019 ITALIAN SERIE A

JUVENTUS -2000
NAPOLI +1000
INTER MILAN +5500
LAZIO +15000
AC MILAN +25000
AS ROMA +25000

Online Sports Betting Vs Land Based Sports Betting

The good news for United States citizens is that its getting easier to find a sportsbook outside of a Nevada. The better news is that in most cases, you’re better off betting online. This is particularly true in one of the states like West Virginia or Pennsylvania that has only now started to offer sports betting. It’s even true now in Nevada which historically has been a very competitive betting marketplace. The Nevada sports betting market has consolidated and the state’s regulatory and governmental oversight entities are more concerned about shielding the big casino companies from competition and not creating an environment in which the industry can grow.

Here’s the best endorsement for betting online. If you were to move to Las Vegas and involve yourself in the sports betting community there you might be surprised to learn that just about everyone bets online. They may do their betting primarily online or at the very least use their online ‘outs’ to give them more betting options. All of the major sportsbooks offer an online or mobile interface and that’s the preferred choice of most smart players. More significantly–the overwhelming majority of ‘sharp’ Las Vegas sports bettors also play at any number of the offshore sportsbooks available to US citizens. The do this for the same reason you should–it’s more convenient, offers a greater variety of bets and a more competitive odds environment. These qualities are essential for long term sports betting profits and you’ll have a much easier time finding them at a top flight online sports book.

Know The Sportsbook Rules

There are some general conventions that are standard to the entire sports betting industry but every bookmaking establishment also has their own ‘house rules’. If you’re betting in Nevada at a casino sportsbook you’ll find the house rules posted in a prominent place—usually on the wall. If you’re betting online you’ll find a link to the ‘house rules’ prominently displayed on the main page of the site (or in some cases on every page). As the name suggests, the house rules vary widely from one sportsbook to another but they’re essential to be familiar with.

Typically, sportsbook rules govern things like betting limits, who is allowed to bet (eg: no one under 18), maximum payoffs, circumstances in which they have the right to cancel bets, rules about parlays and other special bet types, etc. If you’re betting online you’ll also find rules governing bonuses, free plays and other promotions.

Understanding The Vigorish

This is a term you’ll hear discussed frequently but you may hear it called by one of many nicknames like the ‘house edge’, ‘commission’, ‘juice’, ‘vig’, etc. The ‘vig’ is the way that the sportsbook makes money—it’s the commission they charge for booking the bet. If you read the section on pointspread bets you’ll recall that most wagers of this type are booked at 11/10 meaning that you must lay $110 for every $100 you want to win. That extra $10 is the ‘vig’ that the house charges on losing bets. If you bet $110 and win you’ll receive $210 back consisting of your original stake and your $100 profit. In theory, the sportsbook wants to have an even amount of action on both sides of a game. They pay the winners out of the losers betting stake and the ‘vig’ goes to the house. You’ll find sportsbooks that offer ‘reduced vig’ either on all bets or certain bets. The lower the vig, the easier it is to turn a profit but remember that this is how the bookmaker pays his bills. Since playing at a financially solvent sportsbook is crucial you should be suspicious if the ‘vig’ is too low as this revenue model has usually proven to be unsustainable over time.

Understanding How To ‘buy Points’

As the name implies, buying points means paying a higher stake on your bet in order to get a more preferential odds offering. This makes more sense by giving an example and we’ll use Super Bowl LIII between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams.

The current pointspread for Super Bowl LIII is:

SUPERBOWL LIII

New England Patriots -2.5 -110

Los Angeles Rams +2.5 -110

But what if you want to take the Rams +3? Is this possible? It most definitely is but like so many other things it ‘has a price’. You’ll pay a higher moneyline for the extra ½ point on the Rams. The other side of the equation is also true—you can lay the extra half point and bet the Patriots -3 and get a better moneyline price. Here’s how this would look:

SUPERBOWL LIII

New England Patriots -3 +115

Los Angeles Rams +3 -135

Many sportsbooks will offer a variety of different lines on an individual game available at different prices. These are usually called ‘alternative lines’. It’s basically the same thing as ‘buying points’ only under a different name.

Let’s flip the script for another example—if you’re very confident of a Los Angeles Rams win you can lay the three points instead of taking it. This would make the Rams the favorite and the Patriots the underdog and would be priced as follows:

SUPERBOWL LIII

New England Patriots +3 -190

Los Angeles Rams -3 +165

Think the Rams will win by more than a touchdown? This bet might be just right for you:

SUPERBOWL LIII

New England Patriots +7 -370

Los Angeles Rams -7 +310

Or do you think that the Patriots will crush the Rams? Would you be willing to lay -17.5 points with New England?

SUPERBOWL LIII

New England Patriots -17.5 +550

Los Angeles Rams +17.5 -800

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